By Bonny Ibhawoh,

Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium have prompted questions about how ordinary citizens should respond to terrorism. Fear, anger, anxiety? I recently received an e-mail from a former student asking precisely this question. I have posted our redacted exchange below with her permission.

Good evening Dr. Ibhawoh,

My name is XXX and I was part of the ARTSCI 1C06 Inquiry class that you taught last year along with Dr. XXX.

I was recently prompted by a family member to sign an online petition to “Stop resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada” and was very deeply unsettled upon reading the petition goals and justification. The recent attacks in Paris have also set the internet up in flames and I find myself at a loss as to how to respond rationally to widespread fear, as petitions like this gain over 20 thousand signatures.

I realize this is quite unconventional but I was wondering if you could direct me to any reliable resources/individuals/organizations that might help me try and start to understand the complexity of the refugee crisis? I am quite upset by some of the reactionary actions that people have taken and feel altogether disoriented as to how to proceed to discuss these very important problems.

I would very much appreciate any guidance you can provide.


Hello XXX
The terrorist attacks in Paris (and Belgium) are heartbreaking but they are not isolated events. There have also been recent similar mass terrorist attacks in many other counties – Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, the list goes on. Russian and Somalian aircrafts have also been subject to terrorist attacks. Terrorism is a global problem that requires a global solution. How does the world respond to these mindless attacks on civilians? Here is what I think.
First, we should condemn them and stand firmly against all forms of terrorism. In an age of terror, we must also be vigilant and proactive about stopping those who seek to inflict pain and suffering on innocent people in the name of ideology or religion. On this question, there can be no sitting on the fence.
The other instinctive response is to take a hard line against all migrants and refugees from Syria and other conflicted countries. However, it is important to remember that most of these refugees are themselves victims of these atrocities. An estimated 250,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict. A vast majority of these have been Muslims who dared to disagree with the extremist Islamist jihadists. Many of them are also women and children who have lost their husbands/fathers in the war.
Refugees from war affected regions must be carefully screened to ensure that those seeking asylum are legitimate refugees and not terrorists trying to sneak in. But we cannot shut the door on everyone who needs help, especially the children. One of the themes we discussed in our Global Challenges class is the fallacy of judging individuals by stereotypes. Rather we should strive to “fracture simplistic binaries.”
We need to be careful about who we let in but we cannot and should not turn our backs on legitimate Syrian refugees. Canada has historically been a place of refugees for those fleeing wars and famine such as the Irish, Poles and Ukrainians. We have an obligation to continue with this noble tradition which has saved so many lives in the past and served our nation well.
If you would like to know more about these matters, I would suggest you subscribe to the mailing list of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch mailing list. AI and HRW have human rights expert and researchers who think through these matters carefully before taking a position.
Best wishes